March 26, 2022
Wichita, Kansas, USA
Intrust Bank Arena
Sweet 16 Postgame Media Conference
Louisville 76, Tennessee 64
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Louisville. Coach?
COACH WALZ: First, I want to congratulate Kellie and Tennessee on an outstanding game and what a good year her ball club had. We knew coming into this it was going to be a battle. I've got too much respect for that program, her, their staff to have thought anything else, and that's exactly what we prepared for, and that's what took place here.
This crew here sitting next to me is just -- they're tough kids. They're tough kids, they bust their ass.
They let me coach them hard. They let me push them. Our ultimate goal was to continue to be able to play. We're fortunate enough now to get the opportunity to play on Monday night, but it's going to take a lot of rest, a lot of regen and then figure out who we are going to play on Monday night.
Just really proud of this ball club, really proud of these kids, and honored to be their coach.
THE MODERATOR: We have Emily Engstler, Chelsie Hall and Hailey Van Lith here.
Q. You came out and hit that shot in the third quarter, how big was that, and what were you seeing on the floor?
CHELSIE HALL: I was just kind of trying to do whatever I had to do to help my team. Coach called my number, so I knew I could go out there and execute. My teammates were getting me the ball. I was just trying to play with confidence. And if that meant I had to put the ball in the basket, that was that. But we're all capable of that, so it helps.
Q. That lead got cut down to 2 in the fourth quarter, and then you guys took control back. What did you see for the rest of that quarter to take control?
EMILY ENGSTLER: I think we pulled each other together and we practiced telling each other to stay calm and collected, and I think Coach Walz has been telling us that for the past week. That's where we faltered when we took losses.
And we wanted to change everything we did wrong so we wouldn't lose in the fourth quarter again, and that's exactly what we did. So I'm really proud of the team.
Q. Emily, after you picked up your third foul in the third quarter, looks like Coach Walz had to calm you down a little bit. You managed to play the rest of the game without fouling, and you had three players with three pretty early. How much did that influence the way that the game went and Tennessee's ability to come back? How do you play mindful that you are in a little foul trouble?
EMILY ENGSTLER: I mean, don't foul. We didn't stop being aggressive, per se, but you know there are certain things not to risk. Sometimes Coach Walz has to remind us of that, and that's okay. But we don't ever want it to affect the way we play defense because that can change the game, and I don't think we let it do that. We have high IQ on this team, and we know what we're not supposed to foul, and that's exactly what we did. We weren't worried.
Q. Hailey, like that game got cut to 2. You guys have had games you lost in the fourth quarter. How much did the Miami and maybe NC State come into play in you how prepared and you knew you'd be able to take back control of that game?
HAILEY VAN LITH: We kept reminding each other as long as we get stops and rebound, we will be up 2 no matter if we score or not. I think we emphasized stops, rebounds, gaining control of the ball and not getting live-ball turnovers on offense. We were able to execute that. All of our players stepped up and got rebounds and made good plays on defense, and we were able to pull away.
Q. Hailey, that block you had, you have had other blocks, but you were fired up after that. Is that your best block? Does that demonstrate sorta the go-all-out attitude of this team?
HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, I got up pretty high. The team makes fun of me because they say I'm not athletic sometimes, and I got up on that one. So I was pretty excited. I mean, you've got to stay advantage of those moments. If you don't get excited about those moments, what are you playing hard for? We had a great crowd, I was excited, my team was excited. So we took advantage of it, and every ounce of momentum we could get, we ran with it.
Q. Having the opportunity now to play for a chance to go to the Final Four, what does that mean to you?
EMILY ENGSTLER: Weird. I've never been here. I don't know. It's been a really long journey, and I just think that -- sometimes you have a feeling, and I really feel good about this team and this program.
And I think we're going to get there, but I think we have to continue to keep our mind on one thing and one game at a time. And that's exactly what we're going to do. We're going to do some recovery, we're going to take a break and get back to this scout, and hopefully we see all you guys at the Final Four.
CHELSIE HALL: Similar to what Emily said, this is my first time in the tournament, so I'm just excited about this opportunity. I'm playing with a great bunch of girls, and I wouldn't want to be here with anyone else. So we're excited to keep playing.
HAILEY VAN LITH: I think it's what you work all year for. When you have an opportunity like our team, why would you give it up? We're going to run with it as long as we can, and we're going to give it everything we got. And we're going to fight till the end and play the Louisville way.
Just watching how much my teammates have grown this year, how much I've grown, like, you can't give up on something that we worked so hard for. We're going to take advantage of it to the best of our ability.
Q. Hailey, you were with this group when you played Stanford in the Elite Eight last year. How much is that motivation for you guys to get over the hump this year? And, Chelsie, you have never been in this moment. Playing in the third quarter, what was that like? I know that's why you came here, to play in those moments.
HAILEY VAN LITH: Obviously I was there last year. I lost in the Elite Eight. We had them at half, and we let them come back on us.
This team is so much different. The vibe is different. I wouldn't even compare the feeling from last year to this year. I remember what it felt like to lose and have to walk with our head down off that court, and I'm never going to forget it, and I'm going to play like it happened on Monday.
But this team is a whole new group, and I have confidence in us that we're going to execute our scout and our game plan and we're going to give it the best fight we got.
CHELSIE HALL: Can you repeat your question?
Q. You came here to Louisville to play in these moments. What does it mean to you to have moments like this in this tournament?
CHELSIE HALL: It's what basketball is all about. It's fun to play basketball, and it's fun playing with a group of girls like this. I'm just going out doing whatever I have to do to help my team. And we're going to play hard. We're going to fight. And it's been an amazing experience. I'm living it all up right now.
Q. Hailey, you jumped up when you were coming through the tunnel to give a fan a hug, and I understand she spoke to your team this season. Wondering why you were prompted to do that?
HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, you know, she is a special lady to us. She is like our team grandma. She loves us all to death. She's been through a lot, you know, and I think when she talked to us, she told us about the battles she has been through in life, and it just humbles you.
We're really out here playing a game, and it keeps life in perspective. Just have fun with it because at the end of the day, life is really hard, and this is the only chance we get at this sport, with this team. And if you're not having fun, then you're not doing the right things.
She sent a really strong message to our team, and we love her and we are so grateful that she is here because she is very symbolic for us. So hopefully I get to hug her again on Monday, too.
Q. Hailey, you got a double-digit lead early with a lot of turnovers. Did they make an adjustment that made them less susceptible to turning the ball over? Secondly, have you heard from Jimmy Fallon or Barack Obama?
HAILEY VAN LITH: First question. I think with our team, we can't press the whole game. We have to play with our endurance and kind of save it up to use it when we need it. Because if we do play it the whole game, they are going to figure it out, and they are going to get layups off of it.
So we try to use it at strategic times. So we had to pull it off because we had been using it for a while, and then we obviously went back to it and it worked for us. We pulled it off because we have to use it strategically.
But second question, I have not heard from them. I've heard that the public wasn't a fan of my comment, but I mean, it was just a joke. We're having fun out here, and I'm sure that they laughed about it. I love both of them. I'm a big fan. That's all I gotta say.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies. Open the floor for questions for Coach.
Q. Jeff, could you elaborate on the strategic use of the press and how you apply it and when you take it off?
COACH WALZ: Yeah, you know, we knew coming into the game that we were going to have to try to turn them over and get points off of turnovers. As Hailey said, it's not something you can do the entire game.
So I thought we started well. I thought it really set a tempo, got us going. We scored off it. They get 21 points off the 18 turnovers. The big part of the game is we only turned the ball over 7 times. So we knew we were going to have a fit trying to keep them off the glass. So if you're going to get outrebounded, then you have to win another statistical battle. And for us, it was going to have to be points off turnovers. And even though we gave up 23 offensive rebounds, we only gave up 13 second-chance points.
To me, that's the stat of the game. When you get annihilated, which we did on the offensive glass, and then only give up 13 points -- we end up with 14 rebounds, but then we get 12 second-chance points.
Overall I was pleased with that. We came back and put it back on in the fourth quarter and got them to turn the ball over a few times, got a few deflections that disrupted their offense.
We were able to score off those. I was really pleased. I was happy with the fight. At this time of year, everybody is good. Don't care what seed you are. Throw seeds out the window right now. Teams are going to make runs.
And they made a big run, got back within four. I don't know if it got to two, I can't remember, but I know it was four, and then we withstood that, and then we made a little bit of a run to get a separation there the last three and a half minutes.
Q. What do you think that says about your team, if you can elaborate on that, the idea of giving up some offensive rebounds but not giving up on those plays and limiting their second chance?
COACH WALZ: We had talked about it. We had broken down a bunch of film and said we're going to give up some O-boards, but what we got to do is make sure, when they get it and they shoot it again, we can't just turn and watch and get closer to the basket so if they get the second offensive rebound, it's just a layup.
So I thought we did a really nice job of being able to get in there.
The other stat that's not on here, of their 23 offensive boards, 10 were team offensive rebounds, which means the ball is getting knocked out-of-bounds. So they only had 13 of them that they were able to get and go straight back up with, but they hurt us on baseline out-of-bounds with their size.
But overall just what a game our kids fought, and I'm proud of all of them.
Q. Jeff, it seemed like they kept giving you their best punch, if you will, and you guys never got rattled. Do you say that's the character of the team?
COACH WALZ: Yeah, we have talked about it. Just watching all the men's games, the women's games, there's no -- in our league, we play on Thursday/Sunday. You get up 20 on somebody on a Thursday night, and a lot of teams, it would just be like, heck, let's throw in the towel, we've got Sunday's game to look forward to.
There is no Sunday game if you don't win the one at hand. I really think that is what's going on. I try to tell our kids that, I don't care if you're up 20, they're not going to quit because there is no next game. We kept talking about hitting singles, we don't need home runs.
For us to win this ball game -- I mean, our guards competed. Kianna comes up with four steals, Hailey with six assists. We didn't shoot the ball very well. Not the way we have been shooting, and we had great looks. So I think it's encouraging to sit here and look at this and say, we came away with a win and didn't shoot it all that well.
I thought our bench was outstanding. I thought our bench was the difference in the game. Payton Verhulst came in there and hit some huge shots for us in the first half. I thought played really, really well. That's who we're going to continue to need. Liz Dixon came in and battled, three blocked shots, she goes 1 for 3, 4 boards. Olivia, golly, she looks like a boxer in here right now. She has a big bump over her eye.
Again, I say it all the time, you look at it, she gets 3 points, but the work she does -- we don't win without Olivia, it's just a fact. And I'm so proud of her because she such a team player. She is continuing to develop at both ends of the floor.
But more importantly she is just a wonderful person. I tell her all the time, I would take her home. She is always welcome at my house because of her personality and how caring she is. She loves her teammates and gets excited for them, and she is down there getting knocked down more than anybody on this team.
It's what she does. She's really, really important to us. We aren't here without her.
Q. Like you said, the bench played well, especially the first half. When you left Louisville, you said you needed to get more out of people, I imagine that was part of the bench. Kind of their growth? And then Chelsie coming up big in the quarter when you needed her to? She doesn't score a ton, but she showed she can.
COACH WALZ: She made some big shots for me, Chelsie I thought played really, really well, 4 assists, one turnover on the night, big shots, and that 3 in the third quarter.
She runs our team. She does a great job of running our team. I've been trying to get her to be more vocal. It's just not her. She leads by example, she leads in the timeouts of telling people what they need to do, and she's a competitor.
When you are willing to go out there and compete every single play, you've got a chance. That's what she does. Yeah, our bench, what we got from Payton, I would love to see Payton get 13, 14 minutes on Monday because I think she can really give us that lift.
Because the one thing I like about her, she isn't scared to shoot the ball. There is not a bone in her body that's nervous. She just gets that thing, turns and she puts it up. I'm telling you, the shots she made were big-time shots for us.
And then Liz and I thought Mykasa, if you look at her stat line, it's not something where you're going to write a story about, but without her we aren't advancing either because that kid gets in there and battles with one through five, it doesn't matter. She does a great job of getting others involved. So really, really proud of her as well.
Q. You talked about Olivia there. Did she play like Lucy expected her to play?
COACH WALZ: She sure did, she worked her ass off, Lucy will be proud of her.
Q. There are a lot of new players on this team. Hailey mentioned what it's like getting so close to go to the Final Four. How do you portray what that feeling was like for those players to the new players coming into the game?
COACH WALZ: You don't worry about it. You don't talk to them about how bad it sucked to lose. That's not part of the discussion. The discussion is what we have to do to make sure we win. I don't care who wins, it's going to be a great game. There is no question about it. It's going to be a hard-fought battle, and that's who we've got to get prepared for.
We've got to get our kids prepared for what's going to be a heavyweight fight because when you get to the Elite Eight, that's what it is. I know our kids are going to be excited to get back to it and after we get a chance to watch this ball game, see who wins, then we will put a game plan together and get back at it tomorrow. Then, you know, it will be a fun day on Monday, because it's nice to still be playing.
Q. You mentioned missing shots and getting good looks. You missed some that I could tell when the players, when Kianna missed a drive, wide open, she couldn't believe it didn't go in, same thing for Emily on the lob, but it didn't seem to affect them. Talk about their ability to play the next play sometimes because that's big.
COACH WALZ: That's what we talked about this past month is you've got to play the next play. We can't let one missed shot turn into a defensive breakdown and then a forced shot.
They did a really good job of that. Because we got some great looks. We got some great looks off our baseline out-of-bounds, also, had some wide-open threes, and we couldn't get back-to-back shots to go down.
Ki hits the one three in the first half out of transition, and then we get her a beautiful three off a set, another three. And it just didn't go in. I've seen her make three, four, five in a row, same with Hailey.
So you've got to figure out a way to win ugly sometimes, and I thought that's exactly what our game was tonight. It wasn't the prettiest basketball game we've played, but we figured out a way to win. We figured out a way to get to the free throw line. We didn't shoot a great percentage, but we stepped up and knocked them down.
And then we came up with some big plays that, you know, you might not pay attention to. You know, we sit there and miss a shot, air ball it with 3 on the shot clock, and it's still live, and then Kasa goes over and grabs it, and it turns into a jump ball call. It's their arrow, they were about to get it anyway if the shot clock expires, but now we get the next jump ball.
Those are the types of plays you've got to get. You've got to get the 50/50 plays. Emily misses a free throw, her second one, we track it down, and it turns into a jump ball call underneath our basket. Now it's their ball, but now we've got the arrow the last six minutes. That's how you can save a timeout as well. When your kid is stuck in a trap, if you've got the arrow, there is no sense to burn a timeout because you're getting the ball.
Those are the plays you have to be able to make, and I was really proud we were able to do that tonight.
Q. The fourth quarter stretch they get it down to 2, you guys take control from there. The difference in your team in a situation like that, is it just keeping the composure and mental IQ of the game intact and not getting caught up in everything else?
COACH WALZ: Yeah, it's knowing that we've been there before. We've played some great teams and we've had some great games. I was just impressed with how we kept our composure, we executed, came up with some big baskets.
And then simple things. Emily boxing out on the free throw and then it turns into a foul. So she gets to come down, and we're shooting free throws. Those are the possessions that can change a game, where we didn't even have to run an offense. You're going to the line to shoot 2. Hailey got fouled there and stepped up and knocked down her free throws, and Kianna's that hung on the rim of the frame and went in.
Shots are -- it takes some luck. At the end of the third quarter, Burrell's three hits the back of the iron and rolls in. And Kianna had one that hit the back of the iron, the front of the rim and rolled off.
It's part of the game. I say it all the time, it's why it's called March Madness. It's not a best of five. And they're 18 to -- well, now with COVID, they're 18 to 27. But they're normally 18 to 22-years-olds. You never know what's going to happen. But that's why everybody tunes into the games and they watch them. It's the excitement.
So we're just blessed to still have the opportunity to still be playing. We're looking forward to a great ball game on Monday night, and I'm looking forward to going back to the hotel and having a stiff drink.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
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